'We are one family': Edmontonians counter September attack with show of unity

Edmontonians from multiple communities packed city hall Friday to celebrate unity and peace in response to the Sept. 30 attack.

'It just brings me that peace of knowing that these are the people I'm surrounded with every day'

Organizers Fatmeh Kalouti and Ahmed Abdulkadir said Friday's celebration at city hall was all about love and bringing people together. (John Shypitka)

Inside Edmonton's city hall, choir members of all shades and faiths sing a traditional Afghan song as a man in jeans spins to the pulse of a djembe drum.

Among clapping audience members are a golden-robed Buddhist monk, women in colourful scarves and hijabs, men in suits, Edmonton police and politicians.

It's the exact show of support organizers hoped for at Friday's Unity Celebration in response to the Sept. 30 knife and vehicle attack on an Edmonton police officer that also left four pedestrians injured.

"Today is about sharing love among different communities," said Ahmed Abdulkadir, a member of Edmonton's Safety Summit Committee, which organized the event. "Today's about spreading love in Edmonton."

In the hours, days and weeks after charges were laid against Somali refugee Abdulahi Sharif, community leaders, politicians and police spoke in solidarity and worked hard behind the scenes to counter the inevitable backlash.

On Friday, guests greeted each other with warm hugs and handshakes, all there to celebrate and honour police and comfort those still hurting. They shared a Somali meal, soaked up poetry and an Inuinnaqtun prayer.
EMCN Global Choir performed everything from a Chinese folk song to O Canada and La Bamba at Friday's Unity Celebration. (CBC/John Shypitka)

It was a chance to connect anyone facing harassment and discrimination with legal, community and mental health services they might need, as well as morale support.

In the aftermath of the attacks, community groups fielded calls from those feeling afraid to leave their homes, ride buses or send their kids to school.

And indeed, organizations have heard from those subjected to racist or Islamophobic slurs, vandalism and aggression on city streets.

"Events like this where we do bring people together, that's where we are saying there's no room for hate in Edmonton," said Fatmeh Kalouti, chair of the Safety Summit Committee.

'Go back to your country'

Kalouti said being there was also a source of personal comfort. She was recently in a car accident and found herself on the receiving end of hateful words from a passerby.

"This wouldn't have happened if you were Canadian," she recalled the man yelling. "Go back to your country, you effing immigrant."

Kalouti, who was born and raised in Canada, said events like the Unity Celebration make a difference.

We will not allow others to intimidate you or harass you. We are here to support you. We are one family.- Ahmed Abdulkadir, Unity Celebration organizer

"It just brings me that peace of knowing that these are the people I'm surrounded with every day," she said.

Abdulkadir encouraged anyone who is the target of hate to report the incident to both police and an Islamophobic hotline run by the the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

He said all too often, people brush off incidents that need to be reported and documented. Even more important, he said, people need to know they're not alone.

"We will not allow others to intimidate you or harass you," said Abdulkadir. "We are here to support you. We are one family."



Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights and justice. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca